About us: We own a wild bird feeding supply nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Are birds getting bigger?

I know the statistics show Americans have become larger over the years. So as I watch the Starlings feeding huge babies, I’m wondering if birds are getting bigger too. P.

What a thought provoking question? As most dinosaurs would tell us (if they weren’t extinct), there is evidence that being big can be bad for surviving. Being small has long been thought to help things survive extinction by having larger populations, greater genetic variation, shorter time to maturity, and fewer resources to suvive.

In a study done by paleontologists on a collection of bird ancestor bones approximately 65.5 million years old, it was found that there was a general increase in size for the birds in three of the four families. The big point of interest is the Ornithuromorpha, the last of these four families, got smaller over time and is the only family of birds who have members that managed to survive the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event.

So as Americans get bigger and stronger to conquer…everything in their way, I believe birds find their niche in the world…small and have the best chance at survival if they stay small.

I couldn’t find any recent study on the size of birds, but based on observations of birds from the 1800’s to the present there is no obvious change in birds’ size unless helped along by farming practices.

Keep the questions coming and I’ll answer them as best I can. You can also chime in if I get something wrong.

Source: The DinoBase Public Forum

Saturday, May 30, 2009

House Finch vs. Purple Finch

Today I’ve been watching a lot of babies at the feeders. A House Finch visited the window feeder all day with its baby. The baby jumped up and down and flapped his wings in front of the dad with its mouth wide open but the dad refused to give in and feed him. By the end of the day the kid finally gave up and picked up some seed he was doing his little “feed me” dance in and fed himself. Success!

As I showed customers the House Finch drama throughout the day, people kept asking what the difference was between the House Finch and the Purple Finch.

Fun Facts
The House Finch has not always been found in the eastern United States. In 1940, they were illegally captured in California and imported to New York by pet dealers. Fearing prosecution, the dealers released their “Hollywood Finches” on Long Island in 1940. Since then the finches have spread to all corners of the east and have even rejoined their relatives in the west.

House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus are a familiar sight in mid-Michigan today. These 6″, talkative little birds get their name from their habit of hanging around houses. They build their nests in the hanging baskets, wreaths, or in trees, and their cheery warble or a variety of chirps is a constant around the bird feeders. The amount of red the finch has can vary depending on the amount of carotenoid pigments consumed in its food during molt. They have slight white wing bands, a brownish red head with a pink chest that has brown streaking. They also appear to have a sleek body and stand tall.

Purple Finches Carpodacus purpureus are not really drawn to human dwellings, preferring wooded areas and nesting high up in conifer trees. The males have a slight crest on their head and a lighter red above the eye and the females have a white eyebrow. The males’ chests are streaked with pink as well as a little brown. The Purple Finch is actually about 6” too but looks more compact or chubbier, with its legs bent close to the body.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What bird sounds like a monkey?

When I walk the dogs in the Lansing parks I hear a bird that sounds like a monkey. Do you know what it is? R.

It could be the White Breasted Nuthatch. I always think woodpeckers and nuthatches sound like they are laughing, but they could also sound like the hoo, hoo, ha, ha, ha of the colobus monkey.

White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis

Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Nuthatches (Sittidae)

Large nuthatch with blue-gray upperparts, black crown and nape, and white face and underparts. Tail is dark with white corners. Female is grayer.

The White-breasted Nuthatch is a common bird of deciduous forests and wooded urban areas. Known as the “upside down” bird, it is often observed creeping headfirst down tree trunks while searching cracks and crevices for insect food. The name Nuthatch probably results from the corruption of the word “nuthack” which refers to its habit of hacking away at a seed with its beak until it opens. At backyard feeders you may see them eating suet, nuts, or sunflower seeds.

Nuthatches are monogamous and defend a territory throughout the year. The female White-breasted Nuthatch rarely strays far from her mate and stays in constant vocal contact when they are more than a few yards apart playing the dominate role as “watchdog”, leaving the male more time to concentrate on hunting for food. They are feisty birds, and pairs generally defend a territory of 10 to 30 acres. They feast on seeds and insects found in trees, and many times will hide seeds from feeders in tree bark for a snack later in the day or breakfast the next morning.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How do you recommend cleaning a mesh finch feeder and how often?

Also, prior to the leaves coming out, I had finches eating out of my mesh feeder in a large Burning Bush. Now that the leaves are out, the finches haven't been eating out of it much. Should I move the feeder away from the bush or are they just not feeding much right now?
Thank you! C.

I don't know which mesh feeder you have. Wild Birds Unlimited sells 2 kinds of mesh (Copper top and Wild Birds Unlimited brand) and there are a variety of others. For the Copper top you lift the cover like you are filling the feeder and then pinch the clip on the center rod to release the mesh. For the WBU mesh you unscrew the four screws on the bottom, remove the metal bottom and take out the clear seed diverter.

In general feeders should be cleaned at least once a month, year round. Wild Birds Unlimited - East Lansing - will clean your feeder for $5.00 and it is ready the next day. Or you can purchase professional cleaners like Scoot or Poop-Off at Wild Birds Unlimited, or use a mild one part vinegar to nine parts water solution to clean all of your feeders. Disassemble feeders and immerse them completely for five minutes. Scrub with brushes (we have these too), rinse thoroughly, and let air dry.

There is no one reason you have fewer finches. However make sure your Nyjer seed is fresh. One way to do this is to pinch the seed with your fingernails and see if any oil comes out. The finches use their bills to twist the seed and sip the oil and then drop the shell. If your seed has dried out your feeder will be skipped. (Wild Birds Unlimited receives a fresh load of seed each week).

Second, make sure there is no mold in the bottom of your feeder. In Michigan where it can rain several days in a row the seed may not get a chance to air out and begin to mold. This can be dangerous to the finches and they will avoid your feeder again. To prevent mold in bad weather use Feeder Fresh (a silica grit that absorbs water and humidity, is safe for birds, and made from non-toxic absorbent sand).

My favorite feeder is the Wild Birds Unlimited Lifetime Guarantee Mesh Finch Feeder. In the beginning of the year finches flock together and party hardy. It's impossible to keep the feeder full. Right about now you should expect a drop off in their feeding. First because there are other sources of food available. Finches are vegetarians. Their nickname is Lettuce bird because they will eat fresh greens. They will also eat seed heads from a variety of flowers.

Second the party is over. Goldfinches are late nesters and this is when they start to settle down and look for appropriate nesting territories. You will still have Goldfinches but not as many until late summer when the cute but loud babies are brought to the feeders. So now instead of filling the feeder every day I only have to fill it once a week.

Thanks so much for your response. My finch feeder is a mesh bag that I fill with the Nyjer seed. Should I wash that in the vinegar and water mixture? C

Mesh bags can be washed in the sink with the diluted vinegar or bleach water or thrown into the whites wash. Hang it up to dry and then refill. I started with the mesh bags too before I purchase the lifetime guarantee mesh feeders, but every spring I would watch a red squirrel shred it and then bundle it up in her mouth, I assume to build a soft nest for her babies. C'est la vie!

Thank you so much for the information. I want to keep my birdies happy!
I really appreciate your assistance. C

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Don't Forget The Water: Hummingbird misters

In nature, hummingbirds prefer fine sprays of water in order to clean their feathers. Providing water in a shallow bird bath or through a mister or dripper, available at Wild Birds Unlimited, will help to attract hummers — and other birds too.

They help birds keep their feathers in top condition by providing a water source for washing and preening. Our Mini-Mister™ attaches easily to any garden hose to produce a fine water spray. Place it near vines or bushes so birds, such as hummingbirds, can flutter against the wet leaves for a refreshing bath or a much needed drink.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Do you have poles to hold my Topsy Turvy?

Advanced Pole System
Wild Birds Unlimited’s Advanced Pole System (APS) has interchangeable hardware pieces that lets you build the setup that best suits your needs. Its modular design allows you to add or subtract hardware parts and other accessories, giving you the ability to create and customize your pole system with over 3,000 combinations. It is all up to you! Click HERE to see the demonstration. Or come in to one of our Wild Birds Unlimited stores and we can answer your questions.

Can you tell me what to feed the birds here in Afghanistan? They are small, a little like finches.

Most seed eating birds will eat sunflower seeds. Finches like a variety of seeds in the wild. At feeders Niger thistle seed and sunflower seed are the most popular. I found more information about birds in Afghaninstan on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_birds_of_Afghanistan#References

List of birds of Afghanistan
The avifauna of Afghanistan includes a total of 499 species, of which 1 has been introduced by humans, and 2 are rare or accidental. 17 species are globally threatened.

Finches are seed-eating passerine birds, that are small to moderately large and have a strong beak, usually conical and in some species very large. There are 137 species worldwide and 24 species which occur in Afghanistan.
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
Brambling Fringilla montifringilla
Plain Mountain-Finch Leucosticte nemoricola
Black-headed Mountain-Finch Leucosticte brandti
Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus
Pale Rosefinch Carpodacus synoicus
White-browed Rosefinch Carpodacus thura
Red-mantled Rosefinch Carpodacus rhodochlamys
Great Rosefinch Carpodacus rubicilla
Red-fronted Rosefinch Carpodacus puniceus
Red Crossbill Loxia curvirostra
European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris
Eurasian Siskin Carduelis spinus
European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Twite Carduelis flavirostris
Eurasian Linnet Carduelis cannabina
Fire-fronted Serin Serinus pusillus
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes
Black-and-yellow Grosbeak Mycerobas icterioides
White-winged Grosbeak Mycerobas carnipes
Crimson-winged Finch Rhodopechys sanguinea
Mongolian Finch Rhodopechys mongolica
Trumpeter Finch Bucanetes githaginea
Desert Finch Rhodospiza obsoleta

War Birds

"There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of birds. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature--the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter." --Rachel Carson

Soldiers keep tabs on Iraq’s wildlife
The life of the soldier can be one of endless boredom interrupted by bouts of extreme danger and stress. So soldiers welcome distractions from the tedium of barracks life and some have chosen to pass their time through the observation of local nature.

One of the most well-known soldiers that blogged about what he observed is Jonathan Trouern-Trend, an Army National Guard sergeant who was deployed at Balad’s Camp Anaconda between February 2004 and February 2005. While pulling guard duty for a halted convoy across the Kuwaiti border into Iraq, he is stunned when “I’m lying on the ground with my eye on some guy racing around in a pickup truck, wondering if he’s going to take a potshot at us (which would have been suicidal), while a pair of crested larks were not even 10 feet from me, the male displaying and dancing around.”

Michael Yon, a former Green Beret who has been reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan since December 2004, alternately named the house sparrows “French Fry Catchers” and “Saddam’s Sparrows”.

How many birders are there among American forces and contractors in Iraq? Although that’s one category of statistics the military does not keep, Trouern-Trend recounts meeting at least a dozen on his walks around base, and he has opened an (as yet modest) “Iraq Fauna Wiki,” a Web site on which anyone can contribute or edit articles on Iraq’s wildlife.

I hope everyone has a moment of remembrance this Memorial Day as you enjoy the freedoms on this national holiday.

Website list:
Birding Babylon
Iraq Fauna Wiki
Michael Yon’s Online Magazine
List of Birds of Iraq
Iraq Birds
Nature Iraq

Source: http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/2006/09/2001474

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Keep Your Hummingbird Feeders Clean!

Remember to change the nectar in your hummingbird feeder every 2-4 days, regardless of whether the nectar has been used. You might be able to get away with every 4 days if the temperature has remained cool, but I find the more often I change the nectar the easier it is to maintain the feeder. I’m not battling any black mold and I have a lot more hummingbirds and orioles.

I usually just rinse the feeder with hot water. To clean the hard to reach the places you can use a pipe cleaner or we sell little brushes for cleaning out holes of feeding ports, bee guards and flower inserts.

Once a month, I soak the hummingbird feeder for about 5 minutes in a Scoot, active enzyme cleaner. You can also use a one part vinegar to nine parts water solution to clean all of your feeders. Rinse your feeders thoroughly.

Whenever you clean your feeder, you will want to put in a fresh nectar solution.

It is also important to keep your regular bird feeders clean as well!

Clever Green Heron Fishes

Hello, I read your blog daily as it has great information even though you are in Michigan and I am in northern VA. I get a lot of transit birds through here on the way up to you. The other day I thought I was taking a picture of one of the two Green Herons that are on a lake that I walk around. When I got home and looked at the pictures, I was stumped. Is this a Least Bittern or? Thanks, Birding in Northern VA.

I think your first guess was correct. It looks like an unusual pose of a Green Heron (Butorides Virescens). They are stocky birds with a greenish-black cap, a greenish back and wings, a chestnut neck with a white line down the front, grey underparts and short yellow legs.

The long neck you captured in you photograph is not usually seen. Most of the time the Green Herons perch in the shadows, near water with their head pulled in tight against their body. When they spot fish, their neck can dart out quickly to stab its prey with a long, sharp pointed bill.

The Green Heron spends its winters in the southern U.S. and further south to Venezuela, Panama, and the West Indies. However it breeds across most of the U.S including your state and mid-Michigan. You can find the birds along the shoreline of rivers, oceans, lakes, and ponds.

The Green Heron are fun to observe. The birds feed normally at dawn and dusk but those hours are extended when there are hungry young to feed. They are one of the few tool-using birds. They prefer to hunt for frogs and small fish in shallow, weedy wetlands and are often seen dropping small debris, like bugs and feathers as a form of bait to attract fish within their striking range.

The video below is one of many I found showing the Green Heron fishing.
Thanks for your positive feedback. My intention is to write a short blog every day with little tidbits of information you can take away and share with others to spread the joy of birdwatching and nature. I tend to write about mid-Michigan because that is where our two Wild Birds Unlimited stores are located but everyone is welcome to ask questions or share stories and photos. Please write again anytime!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Common Grackles

As I was making my morning tea I heard the loud, agitated calls from the family of sparrows that nest in a window box near my feeders. I went to investigate the cause for their concern, only to discover a Common Grackle eating some seed. Normally grazing the lawn for bugs, this grackle came up to investigate the feeders after finding slim pickings in the grass.

The loud, raucous harassment by the sparrows moved the grackle along. The sparrows usually leave the other feeder birds alone but they saw a threat with the grackle. Although there was no threat to me this time, it pays to listen to nature. If something is out of place, wild birds will let you know with their frantic calls of “danger, danger, danger!”

Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Blackbirds and Orioles (Icteridae)

Medium-sized blackbird with metallic purple sheen on back, head, neck, and breast. Eyes are bright yellow! Female is smaller and duller. Juvenile is dark brown with dark eyes.

You might see a Common Grackle rolling on an ant hill. This behavior is called anting, and grackles as well as many other bird species roll on ants to coat their feathers in the formic acid the ants secrete and rid themselves of parasites. In addition to ants, grackles have been seen using walnut juice, lemons and limes, marigold blossoms, chokecherries, and mothballs in a similar fashion.

Grackles forage primarily on the ground. During breeding season, their diets consist mainly of insects and other invertebrates. However the birds are opportunistic and can eat goldfish, minnows, crayfish, small frogs, salamanders, mice, and small bats. They are also known to eat other birds' eggs and nestlings, and occasionally kill and eat other adult birds, particularly adult house sparrows. During migration and winter, common grackles eat mostly grains from farm fields and seeds, particularly corn and acorns. They also eat some fruits.

Friday, May 22, 2009

What birds like Safflower seed?

The Safflower Solution
If squirrels drive you nuts or blackbirds and starlings crowd your feeder, you might try the safflower solution.

Start by offering safflower gradually, mixing it with the seed you currently use. Over time increase the amount of safflower until you are feeding straight safflower. The seed looks and tastes different from other bird seed, so it may take your birds some time to adjust.

Safflower is a small, white seed that is high in protein and fat. Many favorite backyard birds - including jays, cardinals, chickadees, finches, doves, woodpeckers, titmice and nuthatches- savor safflower. Blackbirds, starlings, and squirrels typically refuse to eat safflower seed.
If you have questions, email me at bloubird@gmail.com or come in to our Wild Birds Unlimited stores for advice and assistance.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Who ate all the birdfood during the night?

The Northern Raccoon Procyon lotor is known for its distinctive black mask and night time raids on birdfeeders.

The common name raccoon comes from the Algonquan Indian word aroughbcoune which “means scratches with his hands”. The species name Procyon lotor means “washing bear.” Raccoons have very clever little hands that can open just about anything and they often seem to wash their food before they eat it. Scientists aren’t sure why the animals go through the dunking motions even if there is no water.

The territory of a raccoon can be as large as ten miles. This means he'll usually stay in your yard for only a few days and then move on looking for different food, water, and shelter. Of course another one may replace the one that just left your yard or you may be free of raccoons for weeks. An exception to that is a nursing mother raccoon. Healthy mother raccoons are often active during the day foraging for extra food and can stay in the same area until her babies leave the den in about eight weeks. Afterward the mother and young find a new place to sleep each night as she teaches them to survive.

Michigan has very long days during the summer months, nocturnal animals will often start to emerge from there dens before dark. This only means that they are hungry. If you are thinking of trapping an animal remember most raccoons or any wild mammal during spring and summer months are most likely nursing females!

To prevent successful raccoon raids:1. Put a baffle around the bird feeder pole.2. Try squirrel proof feeders.3. Take your bird feeders down at night when raccoons are most active and store them in the garage, shed, or a secure container that the raccoon can’t raid.

Mammals of Michigan Field Guide
by Stan Tekiela

Book, feeders, baffles, and steel container are
all available at Wild Birds Unlimited, East Lansing

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How will the birds find my new feeders?

Birds are amazing creatures and can find new feeders several different ways just like humans find restaurants.

Everyone has a friend that likes to tell you about the new "hot spot". Some birds fly in flocks and may send out a scout bird to forage for new feeding sites.

Or if you see a line around the block for a restaurant, you may get in line yourself to check out the food. Some solitary birds see alot of birds at a feeder and go see what all the fuss is about.

What if you see the "Golden Arches" on the way home from work? You know what's inside. Some birds already eat at the neighbor's house and may see your familiar feeders on the way home.

It may be a matter of hours before birds discover new feeders or a matter of weeks. The variation depends on habitat, number of nearby feeders, and the kinds of birds in the area. Chickadees, and House Sparrows are especially quick to locate new feeders. Also if you switch feeders the birds may be cautious to try that feeder. To encourage the birds to use new feeders tempt them with scattered seeds on the ground.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Is it too late to put up a nest box?

It's absolutely not too late to put up nest boxes! Bluebirds and other cavity nesting birds typically have more than one brood per season and can switch to a new site for their second or third brood. Or if their first nesting is unsuccessful, perhaps due to predators, the birds may look for a better nest box.

You can put houses up year round, actually. Some birds will use nest boxes as roosting sites in the winter. So you may have missed the first batch, but are just in time for the second or third!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Migratory Bird Celebrations

Be a Tourist in Your Own Town on Saturday May 30 2009

Fifteen years ago, the Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau created this event to increase community awareness of our attractions and the tourism industry's impact on the area. So once again you can explore culture and creativity, right here in mid-Michigan.

As Lansing celebrates its 150th anniversary, take this opportunity to enjoy attractions that highlight both Lansing’s unique history as well as its innovative and progressive future. This year visit old favorites such as Impression 5 Science Center, Potter Park Zoo and the Fenner Nature Center, and added new hot spots like the FRAG Center, MSU’s Breslin Center, WKAR Studios and taste the new “Capital City Sundae” ice cream flavor at the MSU Dairy Store.

How it Works: For only $1 you can purchase a “passport” which allows you FREE admission to more than 60 area attractions, local businesses, and special activities on May 30, 2009 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. **Ages 3 and under do not require a passport. Get from place to place with CATA. For only 50 cents you will receive a stamp which will allow you to ride the Be A Tourist routes for the rest of the day for no extra charge.

Join Fenner Nature Center, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Potter Park Zoo for a day full of fun and information. Start out the day at Fenner on a bird walk 8-10 am. Search for migrating birds on their return from warmer climates, and also nesting residents setting up their summer territories. Enjoy more activities, talks and demonstrations at Potter Park, all provided by individuals and organizations interested in spreading the word about the life of birds.

Fenner Nature Center • 2020 E. Mt. Hope, Lansing • (517) 483-4224 Feed, handle and learn about some of Michigan’s coolest snakes, frogs, turtles and salamanders 10 am- 4 pm. Take a guided walk on our beautiful trails with a staff naturalist 8 am - 10 am.

Potter Park Zoo •1301 S. Pennsylvania Ave., Lansing • (517) 342-2714 • 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This four-season zoo is home to over 400 wonders of wildlife. Hands-on family activities will be going on throughout the zoo including face painting: games, educational programs, baby birds hatching, and booths by additional organizations 10 am- 5 pm.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The baby bird dilemma

If you find a baby bird that is too young to fly, put it back in the nest. The mother will appreciate the help.

However, if you find a baby bird that is old enough to fly, but isn't, chances are it is learning. If you look, you will see the mother nearby. Leave these older birds alone and let them learn to fly undisturbed.

If you're not sure call for help before you do anything. For a list of licensed rehabilitators click HERE. Or to search for a local wildlife rehabilitation group: http://www.wildliferehabber.org/ and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources: http://www.michigandnr.com/dlr/ 

Friday, May 15, 2009

A stranger was in our backroom!

At our East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited shop Jay Bird is my Boss man and Eli Bird is my best helper! Today both the boys came tearing out of the back room (that's where they do heavy brain work mid-day) all excited to tell me a bird had found its way in through an air duct. I found a darling Starling walking around a little lost. He hopped up on my finger, held on tight and I walked him out the front door. The guys were real heroes helping out a less fortunate and lucky too that there were no injuries.
What do I do with an injured bird?
What You Can Do:
1. CALL FOR ADVICE! The best course may be no interference.
The following is a small list of the local rehabilitators:
  • East Lansing, MI ♦ 517.351.7304 ♦ Cheryl Connell-Marsh ♦ birds and small animals
  • Lansing, MI ♦ 517-646-9374 ♦ Tiffany Rich ♦ white tailed deer, squirrels, raccoons; Vet. Tech. on center.
  • DeWitt, MI ♦ 517.930-0087 ♦ Wildside Rehab & Education Center ♦ birds and small animals
  • Eaton Rapids, MI ♦ 517-663-6153 ♦ Wildside Rehab & Education Center ♦ birds and small animals
  • Holt, MI ♦ 517-694-9618 ♦ Carolyn Tropp cctropp@aol.com ♦ Waterfowl, small birds and mammals
  • Howell, MI ♦ 517-548-5530 ♦ Howell Conference and Nature Center ♦ All wild animals except bats, skunks, starlings, raccoons, pigeons, or house sparrows.
  • Bath, MI ♦ 517-819-0170 (day) 517-641-6314 (evening) ♦ Denise Slocum ♦ Small mammals

  • For a complete list of Michigan Licensed Rehabilitators visit the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at: http://www.michigandnr.com/dlr/ 
  • Or to search for a local wildlife rehabilitation group: http://www.wildliferehabber.org/
2. Avoid stressing the bird further by eliminating any distractions. If you have other animals, or children keep them away so as not to harm the bird.
3. Find a cardboard box to hold the bird. Scoop up the bird in a towel and very gently place it into the box, towel and all. Keep the box in a dark, warm area where there are no loud noises. If you have to take the bird in yourself to the rehab center, do not have a radio on in your vehicle- noises will frighten the bird.

4. Do not attempt to feed the bird or perform any first aid. Birds are very easily stressed by handling and need an experienced veterinarian to care for them.

5. It is illegal (in the USA) for unlicensed individuals to possess any wild bird for any reason beyond overnight care before transporting to a rehabilitation site. Birds have diverse requirements for diet, care and wild birds do not adapt well to captivity.

6. Ask the rehabilitation expert if you can release the bird if he is able to get well again. Often birds should be released near where they were found. That is the best reward for the kindness of rescuing an injured bird!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Rock Pigeon

A surprisingly large variety of birds visit us at our shop in East Lansing. Our latest visitor was a Rock Pigeon stuck in our walkway for two days. The walkway has a clear roof and he tried to fly through that roof over and over. In between trys he would watch the House Sparrows zip up, eat bugs flying around up there, and then watch them zip down and out.

I just kept wondering if pigeons live under bridges because they fly in and get stuck? Luckily its been cool. I shot him some water and I threw him a little seed block too.

We've had hummingbirds, and warblers up there too at different times and we were able to get them down with a net, but pigeons are huge! Eventually he managed to escape on his own and didn't return.

Rock Pigeon Columba livia
Order: COLUMBIFORMES Family: Pigeons and Doves (Columbidae)
Rock Pigeons are a large, highly variably colored dove also called the Domestic Pigeon, Homing Pigeon, or Rock Dove. Native to Eurasia, it was introduced to North America by early settlers. Now the Rock Pigeon is a year-round resident seen in the city area, in parks, and in some backyards. They are ground feeders and will feed from bird feeders if possible.

Parent birds feed the young regurgitated liquid known as crop-milk for the first few days of life just like the Mourning Dove. A group of pigeons has many collective nouns, including a "band", "dropping", "loft", "passel" and "school" of pigeons.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Song Sparrow

While I enjoy all the flashes of bright color after a long cold winter in Michigan, I still enjoy seeing the less colorful birds as well. Recently I've been watching a solitary Song Sparrow eating sunflower chips under my feeder. The easiest way for me to recognise him is by what I call mutton chops under the beak.

Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Sparrows (Emberizidae)
Description: Medium-sized sparrow with heavily streaked gray-brown upperparts. Dull white underparts have dark central breast spot and thick streaks. Head has a brown crown with paler median stripe, pale gray eyebrow, white chin, and dark brown moustache stripe.

General: The Song Sparrow lives up to its name, being one of the most persistent singers throughout the spring and summer. The scientific name Melodia means "melody" in Greek. Click here to hear the song.

Behavior: It prefers brushy areas, especially in fields, along streams and the borders of woodlands and mainly eat insects and seeds on the ground. The Song Sparrow is a cautious bird in much of its behaviors, spending a lot of its time in the shadows or in areas matching its coloration.

Where to buy oriole feeders

I have been looking for an Oriole feeder. Our Oriole is trying to feed from our Hummingbird feeder and is getting frustrated. Do you have a feeder? I have checked several other places (Soldan’s etc.) and everyone is out. S.S.

We are Wild Birds Unlimited, your birdfeeding supply store! We own two stores you can visit: one in East Lansing in the same strip mall as Country Stitches at 2200 Coolidge Rd.
Yes we have oriole feeders at both our stores! The East Lansing store has one up on the side window. Two male orioles come to that one to feed regularly. Click here to see some of my favorite oriole feeders. Or put in "oriole" in the "search blog" at the top of the page.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How do you attract Indigo Buntings?

As I reported earlier to you, we're still experiencing many visits aday at our home of Orioles on the Lookingglass River. There are reports from neighbors that they have seen Indigo Buntings but we have not. What type of birdseed is best to attract Indigo Buntings? N.H.

Indigo Bunting Passerina cyanea
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Cardinals and Grosbeaks (Cardinalidae)

Similar in size to a goldfinch, the male Indigo buntings look blue with black wings, tail, and beak. The females are a soft brown with brown streaks on the breast and a light throat. The young look similar to the female.

When I saw a tiny dark bird on the finch feeder at the Wild Birds Unlimited East Lansing store I wasn’t sure what bird it was until the sun hit its feathers. Indigo Buntings are almost black but the diffraction of light through their feathers makes them look blue.

These small bright birds make their way to Michigan from Central America during the spring, and settle in woodland edges and farmlands to nest in the spring and summer. Indigos like a variety of food, including small seeds, nuts, berries, insects, mosquitoes, flies, aphids, small spiders, buds, goldenrod, thistle, grasses, and herbs. At my feeders they like the Nyger Thistle and the No-Mess blend which has the sunflower chips, peanuts, and millet without the hulls.

Down south the birds winter in huge flocks that forage together in the day and roost together at night. During breeding season in the north the birds live a solitary life defending their territory and hunting alone or with a mate. Older male buntings are first to arrive on their Michigan breeding grounds in late April to mid May. They will have already staked out their territories by the time the females arrive about two weeks later.

The females do most of the feeding and caring for the young, while the male defends the nest against intruders. Once the young have fledged the males will teach them to forage, while the female is busy building a new nest for the next brood. Together each pair will raise as many as three broods.
Summertime feeding is so fun! Right now I have a Cardinal out front, a Goldfinch on my window feeder and an oriole at my other window feeder. All their bright colors and beautiful songs are a delight to have up close! I'm glad you have your orioles, I hope you see some buntings soon. Keep me updated.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Why Wild Birds Unlimited has the best seed!

I’m relatively new to bird feeding. Can you give me a recommendation on a place to purchase bulk peanuts and thistle? With nesting season, the birds are really going through it!
Yours truly,  East Lansing

The Best Bird Food in Town
Experience the Freshest in Bird Food.

reshest in Bird Food.
We have tons of fresh seed delivered every week to our Wild Birds Unlimited store in East Lansing, MI. Wild Birds Unlimited is dedicated to offering fresh, top-quality seed. Our no-waste bird seed blends are made from 100% edible seed and have been exclusively formulated for the feeding preferences of our local birds. No cereal fillers—just fresh, high-quality seed your birds will love.

We also carry a wide variety of other bird foods—suet and no-melt doughs, seed cylinders, mealworms and more.

WBU Bird Seed and Seed Blends
All of our blends are made of the stuff birds like to eat! We learned long ago the better the blend, the better your bird watching! Bargain bird seed may have inexpensive seeds like milo and wheat mixed in to bulk up the bag. However, in most regions these seeds are not eaten by bird feeder birds and is left to sprout or rot on the ground. We also stock all the non-blended bird seeds like WBU Premium Oil Sunflower, sunflower chips, safflower, Nyjer® (thistle), peanuts, and ear corn.

WBU Suet Products
We carry a high quality line of suet products for birds like woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, bluebirds, wrens, mockingbirds, etc. Use “suets” for shady/warm to winter temperatures. Use “suet doughs” for sunny/hot situations. We have quite a few varieties, so keep trying them out until you find the most popular for your backyard. Peanut Butter Suet and Cranberry Fare seed cakes are probably the most popular.

WBU Specialty Feeders
Our Bird Seed Cylinders are an easy way to offer your birds a wide variety of food. They’re convenient, too. Just set one out and watch. Try offering a Seed Cylinder on our Seed Cylinder Feeder or Dinner Bell Feeder.

WBU Nectar
If you don't want to make your own nectar from white sugar, we have ready to use nectar that provides the high calories the active hummingbirds and orioles need. It contains no dyes or additives and delivers wonderful results. Any leftover solution can be stored in your refrigerator for later use.

It's the goal of Wild Birds Unlimited for you to have the best possible experience from your bird feeding hobby. Backyard bird feeding is the most relaxing, fulfilling, educational and exciting hobby that everyone can enjoy. If you have any other questions let me know.

Store location:
Wild Birds Unlimited
2200 Coolidge Rd. Ste.17
East Lansing, MI 48823ph.
(517) 337-9920

email: bloubird@gmail.com
web: http://lansing.wbu.com/
blog: http://lansingwbu.blogspot.com/

How do Cowbirds learn to sing their song?

I'm curious how cowbirds learn the correct song if they are raised by foster parents? For that matter, how do they know they are cowbirds? Marj

That's an excellent question that puzzled scientists for many years! The answer is that they develop a "default" cowbird song regardless of their host. Once they fledge from their host's nest, they have an innate sense to find other cowbirds and form juvenile flocks.

Social interactions and aggression help shape their songs and determine the dominant males. While the dominant males are more attractive to the females, they also attract negative attention from males and risk more attacks. In contrast to many other birdsong species, cowbirds raised in isolation result in a very attractive "default" song since there is no one to challenge the isolated bird to decrease the appeal of his song.

Source: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/0304/01-ask.html

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater

Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Blackbirds and Orioles (Icteridae)

Description: Small blackbird with glossy brown head, heavy bill, and dark eyes. Female is dark gray with darker streaks and paler throat. Juvenile is white-throated with white scaling on upperparts and white streaks on underparts.

General: Historically, cowbirds followed herds of migrating bison to take advantage of the food they kicked up in their wake. They are still associated to an extent with large mammals such as cows. A group of cowbirds are collectively known as a "corral" and a "herd" of cowbirds.

Behavior: The birds nomadic lifestyle made it impossible for them to manage a nest. Instead the cowbirds deposit their eggs in nests of other birds species to foster. The cowbird eggs typically hatch earlier than their host’s eggs which gives them a competitive advantage over the other hatchlings.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Chipping Sparrow

We have the door open today at Wild Birds Unlimited in East Lansing and I'm listening to a lot of beautiful songs. Today the star performer seems to be the Chipping Sparrow. Now I can hear some of you saying "all sparrows are alike." But the Chipping Sparrow is so cute I insist you get to know him!

Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina

Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Sparrows (Emberizidae)

A very tiny, clean, crisp, energetic, sparrow about five inches long and weighing only a half ounce. It has a chestnut cap and a white stripe above the eye, and a black stripe through the eye. The female is the same but slightly duller.

Chipping Sparrows are well adapted to the presence of people and don’t mind if you are nearby watering flowers or filling the feeder. They now live and nest in a very wide variety of habitats, including the suburbs.

Arriving in April and May to the Michigan area from its winter home in Mexico, Central America or the southern United States, they perch high in a tree and sing a song to mark their territory. The loud, trilling songs of a chipping sparrow are one of the most common sounds of spring and easily identifiable. The song is often described as the sound of an electric sewing machine. To hear the chipping sparrow’s song, visit HERE.

The males arrive a week or so before the females and once paired, they share nesting, hatching and feeding-the-chicks duties. You may see them picking up any stray seeds from your birdfeeder or feeding on a ground feeder. Their appetite for insects and the seeds of many weeds and grasses make them true allies in any yard. One of their choice foods are the seeds of crabgrass…help yourself little guys!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Yellow and black birds: Goldfinch colors

Why aren't all the goldfinches yellow? Evan Z.

That is a good question! The American Goldfinch is one of my favorite backyard songbirds because of its butterfly like flight and delicate song.

Many people don't realize that the Goldfinches are not bright yellow all year. In fact they are the only finch in North America to go through a complete molt two times a year. In the spring the male turns bright yellow with a black cap, wings, and tail, and white rump. The female keeps the duller brown color and lacks the black cap. Why?

One reason the female stays brown is that she needs to blend in with the trees when she is sitting on a nest of eggs later in the summer. Another reason is she doesn't need to be showy. The males need to be bright to attract a mate and defend their territory from other males. Research also suggests that as testosterone in male birds increases, so does the level of carotenoids, the chemicals that create the bright coloring on birds' feathers, beaks, and legs.
Many customers think that the American goldfinch disappears in the winter. Actually, in the fall, all the goldfinches molt again into their yellowish brown winter plumage. During the winter months both male and female goldfinches look similar and are actively feeding in Michigan.

Gardening Trick for Goldfinches: Habitat can be a key to attracting Goldfinches. In this case you do less work, not more. Don't worry about dandelions and don't cut off the tops of your Marigold, Zinnias, Cosmos, or Coneflowers...Goldfinches love them.

Keep the question coming to bloubird@gmail.com

MOTHER’S DAY at Fenner Nature Center

LIVE AT FENNER: Prickly Plants for Butterflies (& Moms!)
Sunday, May 10, 1:00-2:00pm.
$4/person. $2 for members, at the door.

Some wild-growing plants that are thorny are often pulled from your backyard garden but can be valuable plants to a host of beautiful butterflies.

Mother’s Day participants are encouraged to look beyond the prickles and gain an understanding of each plant’s ecological benefits, especially to butterflies. At the presentation’s conclusion, participants can choose a potted prickly plant to take home and nurture in the yard. Jim guarantees that "if you plant it, they will come."

After the presentation Jim will lead an interpretive walk on the trails, open to any nature center visitors.

For more information contact Fenner director, Jim McGrath,
2020 E. Mount Hope Road
Lansing, MI 48910
(517) 483-4224

Monday, May 4, 2009

How do Birds Migrate?

Bird Migration is a fascinating time for many bird watchers. It is also a fun time for many people who feed the birds. Migration can happen right in your own backyard.

How Birds Migrate
A streamlined body shape and a lightweight skeleton composed of hollow bones minimize air resistance and reduce the amount of energy necessary to become and remain airborne. Well-developed pectoral muscles, which are attached to a uniquely avian structure called the furculum, power the flapping motion of the wings. The long feathers of the wings act as airfoils which help generate the lift necessary for flight.

Birds have a large, four-chambered heart which proportionately weighs 6 times more than a human heart. This, combined with a rapid heartbeat (the resting heart rate of a small songbird is about 500 beats per minute; that of a hummingbird is about 1,000 beats per minute) satisfies the rigorous metabolic demands of flight. Unlike mammalian or reptilian lungs, the lungs of birds remain inflated at all times, with the air sacs acting as bellows to provide the lungs with a constant supply of fresh air.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

When is frost free day for mid-Michigan?

Officially frost free day for the Lansing area is May 15th. However when I see the White-crowned and White-throated sparrows around I go ahead and start planting. If you've never noticed these birds don't feel bad, they are only in our area for a couple weeks in the spring and a couple weeks in the fall. The White-crown breeds in the far north, in alpine environments and the White-throated breeds in northern Michigan and the Upper Penninsula as well as farther north.

White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Sparrows (Emberizidae)

White-crowned Sparrow
Zonotrichia leucophrys
Order: PASSERIFORMES Family: Sparrows (Emberizidae)

Both are medium sized sparrows with brown streaked upper parts, plain gray underparts, and black-and-white striped heads. The White-throated has a conspicuous white throat and yellow spots between eyes and bill.

White-throated Sparrows like to scratch on the ground with a series of quick kicks when they feed and remind me of chickens. These birds follow a well-defined hierarchy, which puts males ahead of females and older sparrows ahead of younger sparrows. The oldest male birds are the ones that sing the most. They are known to migrate at night and begin their flights around sunset. Some research studies suggest they use star patterns as one means of navigation.

White-crowned Sparrows tend to visit feeders early and late in the day. They enjoy millet and also will eat sunflower chips. They will avoid conflicts when eating by facing the same direction as other birds. Through the analysis of bird banding records, the average life span of a White-crowned Sparrow is thought to be around 16 months while the longest known lifespan was just over 13 years. While migrating north in the spring, their average travel distance is about 70 miles per day.

You may hear the birds before you see them. I always think White-throated sparrows have a song that sounds like a chickadee yodeling. Birders describe their song as "poor Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody" and the White-crowned sparrow says "poor-wet-wetter-chee-zee".

Saturday, May 2, 2009

What are those flowers?

If you've come into the East Lansing store you may have wondered or already asked me "what are those flowers out front?" They are Fritillaria meleagris. Some common names are Snakes Head Fritillary, Checkerboard lily, Frog-cup, Guinea-hen Flower, Leper Lily.

They are late blooming spring bulbs native to Great Britain that prefer damp environments. The plant is a member of the lily family (Liliaceae), which includes the edible onion and garlic so squirrels and deer usually avoid them.

Today they are only found naturally in three places in Great Britain. It's a protected species but also available from cultivated stock as bulbs in late autumn. The purple, pink and white chequered flowers appear from April to May on stems of around 12 inches high. I also planted the white variation.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Thoughts on the rain.

April showers bring May flowers!
I'm setting high expectations for the flowers this month!